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The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019, #15: The Ocean, Pelagial

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MetalSucks recently polled nearly 180 prominent metal musicians and industry insiders to determine The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019! (You can read all about the voters and the methodology behind the poll here.) Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the entire list, one entry per day.

The countdown continues today with Pelagial (Metal Blade Records), the 2013 release by The Ocean!

The Ocean’s career trajectory has been anything but standard. The band’s first two albums, Fluxion and Aeolian (released in 2004 and 2005, respectively), turned a few heads, but it wasn’t until the expansive, double-disc affair Precambrian, which dropped in 2007, that folks in the progressive and post-metal communities the world over started to take notice of the impressive output this rotating collective of German metal musicians were creating.

Fast forward six years, and the recording sessions for Pelagial saw the band’s core group — mastermind/guitarist Robin Staps, drummer Luc Hess, guitarist Jonathan Nido, vocalist Loic Rossetti and bassist Louis Jucker — reunite for the third album in a row. That’s noteworthy because the two albums released in the interim, the concept series Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, felt like a bit of a letdown after Precambrian. They weren’t bad by any means — sub-par The Ocean smokes 99% of what all other bands are doing — but fans expected Precambrian II, or at least the next logical evolution, and instead got what felt like a slight regression.

Sometimes it simply takes time for a band to gel, and that’s the other reason the consistent lineup on Pelagial is so noteworthy. Staps gets most of the praise for The Ocean’s general brilliance — as he should! it always has been, is and always will be his brainchild — but credit where it’s due, because not only did the other players on this record turn in absolutely phenomenal performances, but their consistency, familiarity and presence just had to have had some effect on the compositions, even if subliminal. When you’re around folks in stinky touring vehicles for the better part of six years their consciousness seeps into yours, and vice versa.

What we ended up with was a stunning concept album that takes listeners from the ocean’s surface to its deepest, darkest depths, with the music and lyrical themes — often doubling as metaphors for the human psyche — getting increasing heavier, weighty and claustrophobic as the album progresses. And oh, what a journey it is! What’s most remarkable about Pelagial is that you really don’t feel it happening, just as you wouldn’t be aware of the slow pace at which a submarine descends into our seas’ murky channels. Now matter how focused you are on the music — it’s so intricate, so well-arranged, so dynamic, and phenomenally catchy throughout — all of a sudden you lift your head up a few minutes later and things feel different. How did we get here from there? No clue on a technical basis, but here we are anyway, and it’s never not been riveting. From the major key piano plinks and flighty, lofty vocal lines of album-opener “Epipelagic” to the bone-crushing doom drones and blood-curdling roars of closer “Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes,” it’s all perfectly executed the whole way through to such an extent you can’t help but be caught up in it. Revisiting Pelagial to write this piece, I’m honestly having a tough time focusing on getting words on the page because the music is that good.

If any album by The Ocean was going to make it on this list, it was definitely this one, universally beloved when it was released and widely lauded to this day. That a band who aren’t a metal household name were able to place as high as #15 on this list (beating out some of the genre’s giants!) speaks to just how incredible and how lasting Pelagial truly is. Sure, the band’s 2018 follow-up, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, may have once again not provided the spark that many fans hoped for coming off of a modern classic, but I would absolutely not put it past The Ocean to come back next time with another career-defining album. In fact, I’d even expect it.

The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019:

#25: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (2016)
#24: Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (2010)
#23: Pig Destroyer, Book Burner (2012)
#22: Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
#21: The Black Dahlia Murder, Ritual (2011)
#20: Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014)
#19: At the Gates, At War with Reality (2012)
#18: Meshuggah, Koloss (2012)
#17: Gorguts, Colored Sands (2012)
#16: Between the Buried and Me, The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012)

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